One of the reasons that US airlines can’t for the life of ‘em compete with foreign airlines is the variability in service. When you fly Singapore Airlines you know exactly what you’re going to get as far as service goes. Some call Singapore Airlines service robotic; I just call it consistent. At the same time, a bit of personalization is lost when flight attendants are trained to be nice in a certain way.
I’ve witnessed everything on US airlines as far as service goes, from downright awful to amazing. When the service is amazing airlines like American and United can compete with Singapore Airlines (maybe not on the food front, but I’ve sometimes enjoyed United service more than Singapore service). When service is bad, the airlines should feel ashamed to even offer a “premium” cabin.
I think the key to good service at US airlines is for flight attendants to be able to tailor their service to each passenger. By that I mean that you have some flight attendants that like to joke around, but they need to know who they can joke around with. Along the same lines, some flight attendants are very informal, though they need to know with which passengers that’s appropriate. I’ve been in international first class on United to Frankfurt and seen a purser refer to a German doctor by his first name at first interaction, which was obviously offensive to him (title is a lot more important in Germany than in the States), as he told her to refer to him by his title.
Anyway, that brings me to today’s flight on American from London to Miami, which was spectacular. The service definitely wasn’t everyone’s “style,” in the sense that it was very informal, though respectfully so. The purser, Dave, was a guy in his late-60s, working my aisle in first class, and the flight attendant working the galley was his wife. First of all, how cool is that? As much of a pain as it is to work your way up in the airline industry over decades, when you have enough seniority so that you can always work with your wife on international trips, you have it made (which is apparently the case, since I asked him about it – they always fly together).
Like I said, Dave was informal, though tastefully so. During boarding the older couple seated in the center section a row up were taking pictures of each other. Dave went up to them and said “want me to take a picture of you two? The first one’s free.” As he distributed newspapers, he said “newspapers, newspapers, only one Pound.”
Dave was constantly smiling and starting conversations with everyone. As we were taxiing out he asked me whether I had seen “Hall Pass” before, and said if not, I should watch it. During the meal service he asked me how his wife’s cooking was, which I thought was hilarious.
At every interaction he was trying to push alcohol on passengers, reminding us that if we can’t walk upon landing he could call for wheelchairs. As the appetizer came around (which seems to be salmon and shrimp on every flight, with capers, onions, and sour cream) I couldn’t help but comment that it was poor man’s caviar. He quickly responded with “yeah, apparently Al-Qaeda likes caviar, because they took it with them after 9/11.” With the appetizer he said “something to drink, Ben?” I responded with “I’m good for now, thanks.” He said “how about some vodka?” “Nope, I’m fine, thanks.” “A little vodka maybe?” “Hah.” “Fine, champagne it is, then.”
Throughout the entire nine-hour flight he was quite literally through the cabin every five minutes to see if anyone wanted something to drink. He was relentless, and he never took no for an answer.
So Dave, my hats are off to you. Your positive attitude is contagious, and anyone that lands on your flight should consider themselves lucky.